Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and often tipped as a future leader of the Labour Party joined us at GNHQ in July 2012. She has a particular interest in what she calls the stretched generation - looking after elderly parents, helping out with grandchildren, worrying about pensions. She's a mother of three and, with her husband Ed Balls, she's half of the first married couple to serve in the British cabinet.
Q: It can be difficult to be "in the middle": I had elderly parents to care for (both with dementia) and we kept them at home as long as possible with very little help. We also had to help with grandchildren - and we are getting old ourselves. It strikes me this can only get worse as the population lives longer and parents both have to work to pay ridiculous mortgages. It's all a matter of priorities and this government seems to have completely the wrong priorities. Grandnessa
A: I agree. People talk about a squeezed middle, but there's also a stretched middle - a middle generation of women in their fifties and sixties who are now looking after the younger generation and their elderly relatives at the same time. Which makes it even more troubling that women in their fifties have also seen a 40% increase in unemployment -- the steepest of any group -- in the last two years, and face the biggest hit to their pensions too.
Q: How do you manage to give your children enough time? I chose to stay at home and raise my own children - I don't think they or I suffered. Gally
A: I wouldn't cope without my Mum. Ed and I take turns to do the school run each morning and we've always taken our children to and fro with us between Yorkshire and London each week, and we work hard to protect family time at weekends and in the evenings. But my Mum is the fourth emergency service in our family - if we suddenly have to work late she's brilliant at coming round and putting the kids to bed.
Q: I would like to hear your views on the demonisation of "baby-boomers" and the repeated suggestion that there is an inter-generational war and those of us born in the post-war period are to blame for current problems we were somehow meant to predict. Gadaboutgran
Q: We are told we Baby Boomers have it all - I don't think so, although I don't think I would like to be starting all over again right now. I have absolutely no faith in any politician of any persuasion - how sad is that? Gally
A: I strongly disagree with David Willetts, the Conservative Minister who has argued that the baby boom generation have had it too easy at the expense of everyone else. My impression is that particularly women in their fifties and sixties are doing more than anyone else to hold families and communities together - and are at the same time paying a heavier price than many other people from the double dip recession and coalition government policies. When child care tax credit is cut, it is often grandparents who take the strain, and when social care support is cut its the same generation that has to do more to look after their elderly relatives too.
Q: What is the answer to the stretched middle? Is it more state intervention - or are there other ways of supporting women at this time in our lives? dopehed
A: I think we have to start by giving older women in particular a stronger voice in politics. My view is that the coalition government really isn't listening and just doesn't get the damage they are doing with things like changes to the pension age for women in their fifties which mean they will lose thousands of pounds with very little time to plan. We have campaigned against that. But there are challenges to all politicians. For too long politicians and journalists have talked about young people, families with children and pensioners. That misses out a vital generation who are often still working or in active retirement, supporting their families too and I think the pressures on women in their fifties and sixties are often completely overlooked. That's why Labour is keen to set up an Older Women's Commission to give the stretched middle more of a voice - and yes, to look at issues like jobs, ageism, pensions, social care etc.
Q: There is much cynicism surrounding politicians of all parties after the expenses scandal, links with big business, a feeling that policies favour a chosen few and that politicians have generally lost touch with, for want of a better phrase, the common man. How do you think Labour should try to get back to being a party of and for the people and clean up the image of politicians?
And second question - are you and Ed able to leave politics outside once you shut your front door? DavidH22
A: Second question first: we certainly talk about lots other than politics, we'd go mad if we didn't. And anyway three growing children make sure of it. Ed has just taken up piano lessons! Meanwhile I am trying and failing to grow vegetables. Even worse than last year, mice and pigeons are getting at the peas and lack of sun means I think the tomatoes will stay green for ever.
First question: Labour lost the election heavily - so we all know we have a lot of work to do, listening to people and making sure we are championing the things people really care about. There are still big differences in politics - I really don't think all politicians and all political parties are the same. For example I think the Coalition government is deeply wrong to give £40,000 as a tax cut for the richest people in the country, at the same time as taking away £3,000 from a working family on the minimum wage. We've been campaigning on this in the Labour party, but we know we still have a lot more to do.
Q: It seems that the Tories are trying to soften up the population to believe that baby boomers are ripping off younger generations. There are millions of middle aged and older people who have not had great careers and have not cashed in on the property boom. Any ideas how Labour can combat this big divisive myth that we are all in clover to the detriment of 28 year olds?
A: No one doubts there is clearly a serious problem for young people at the moment. Youth unemployment is through the roof, EMAs have been cut and tuition fees are rocketing. And we remember the problems of the 1980s when a "lost generation" then found it even harder to get work later on.
But blaming baby boomers or stoking up intergenerational strife is complete rubbish.
Look at the facts. Women in their fifties and sixties have seen a 39% increase in unemployment in the last two years compared to an increase for the population as a whole of 5%. Changes to the state retirement age mean women in their mid fifties are hardest hit losing around £8,000 with little time to change their retirement or pension plans to compensate. And most people in the baby boomer generation are working extremely hard to support other generations of their own families -- they are the first generation to have had to cope with caring for elderly parents on such a massive scale.
Q: I have always voted, always for the person not the party, but now for the first time I am so disillusioned with the current crop of politicians. I now feel that no matter who I vote for nothing will change, no-one will listen to what the public actually wants and politicians of every party and merely looking out for themselves. What do you think politicians can do to recitify this feeling? Barrow
A: Politics does make a difference but you are right we have to work to make it more relevant. Voting Labour in 1997 meant we were able to bring in the National Minimum Wage and Sure Start -- very different to the Conservatives plans at the time. And right now I strongly disagree with the Conservatives over their costly reorganisation of the NHS which is putting more emphasis on income from the private sector; Labour has said we would repeal the NHS Reform Bill. So I hope we can persuade you that there is more to politics and that it is worth voting because I think there's a lot at stake for the country.
Q: It looks as though the government isn't going to do anything about funding social care. Do you agree that this is one of the most urgent social problems we face - and what would Labour do? goodenoughgran
A: I do think this is one of the most urgent social problems we face - in fact I think it is a growing crisis.
We wanted cross party talks on this, because we know there aren't easy answers, reforms need to be substantial and long term. I think the Dilnot Commission was a very good starting point for those cross party discussions and we should be trying to build a consensus. It is disappointing that Andrew Lansley has pulled out of those discussions and we expect the government to announce tomorrow that major changes will now not take place at all in this Parliament. The trouble is that the pressures are growing all the time. Councils have cut social care heavily and more and more people need support. So we'll see what the government puts forward tomorrow, but I think we are going to need more rapid action -- including legislation in this Parliament not the next one.
Q: Isn't the flipped side of the stretched generation that men still aren't doing enough? How do we do something to change that? Iwasframed
A: There is a big gap still for men and women in their fifties and sixties -- with full time women earning on average £4,500 a year less than full time men. Interestingly women are also more likely to work beyond the state retirement age than men, and they are much less likely to be in well paid jobs if they do so. Two thirds of men who work beyond the retirement age are in high skilled jobs. Two thirds of women who work beyond the retirement age are in low skilled jobs.
My sense is that men of all generations are doing more in the family than they were twenty years ago. When I do school gate surgeries in my constituency more and more grandfathers are picking up the children after school as well as fathers and grandmothers. But we know there is still a big difference. I think we should be making it easier and much more common for men to do more in the family throughout their lives - including encouraging paternity leave and flexible parental leave.
Q: I believe the editor of Vogue has said you are the woman she would most like to see in her magazine. Are you interested in clothes? Is it something you would ever do? frantick
A: I'm wearing a stripey Marks & Spencers dress today -- which I really like. Though with Kate Bostock's departure today, I hope I'm not in a minority.